Incredible Jessica James
By Andie Newell
In The Incredible Jessica James, the eponymous protagonist (played by the radiant Jessica Williams) aspires to stage a crowdpleasing play, mirroring the Netflix Original’s own endeavor to garner appeal from a wide audience. Jessica lusts after a cheerfully mediocre Boone (played by played by Chris O’Dowd) as writer-director James C. Strouse fights for that #relatable moment. Whether it’s Jessica hyping up an old flame’s dog or Boone faceplanting into a pile of trash cans, the beats feel personally familiar in the same way an episode of Broad City depicts life for young women in New York. We’ve all been there. Sort of. Either way, it’s pretty funny.
It’s the moments between these millennial caricatures that the movie truly shines. Jessica and Boone follow each other’s exes on Instagram instead of their own; they rollerskate, they bootycall, and they spend more time focused on their careers than maintaining their love lives. In these moments, we see the infectious energy Williams has to offer as well as a striking range from O’Dowd.
At one point, Jessica voices a fear familiar to any creative: that despite the love she has for the theatre, theatre will never love her back. If success, as she finds, is an eternally shifting finish line, is the race still worth it? How many times can a person embrace vulnerability before they get burned for good? The Incredible Jessica James shows us that in this world, the answer is simple: as many times as it takes.
Boone and Jessica indulge in their mutual attraction despite both of their broken hearts. Jessica hangs rejection letters on her wall, pausing for solo dance parties. In addition to her witty, biting remarks, she remains optimistic, as does every other character in the movie. Boone and Jessica make an arduous transitional period of life appear effortless. And maybe that’s the point. These months and years that so many of us spend searching for a finish line aren’t always as grueling as they may seem. They can be funny, exhilarating, and even reach those #aestheticgoals. The Incredible Jessica James may be coated in sugar, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delightfully sweet, urging us to run the race and dance along the way.
Originally published 10/18/17